Orchids and lizards: Two secondary education citizen science projects
Engaging students at all levels in citizen science through various avenues is becoming more commonplace. During the 2014-2015 school year, Fairchild Tropical Botanic Garden implemented two citizen science projects as part of our environmental science education outreach program, The Fairchild Challenge. The Fairchild Challenge is a multidisciplinary environmental science education outreach program that consists of multiple contests, called “challenges,” over the school year. Educators from schools of various socio-economic, academic and cultural backgrounds, including alternative schools, were given information about the projects at the beginning of the school year. The citizen science projects were designed based on the grade level of the students. Middle school students (grades 6-8) surveyed their school and/or backyards for lizard abundance and diversity. High school students (grades 9-12) propagated rare endemic orchids in multiple media types. High school students also had the option to design and conduct an experiment with a subset of their orchids. The objectives of these citizen science projects were: 1) to engage students in authentic research; 2) to highlight two conservation projects conducted by scientists in our area; and 3) to enhance the science curriculum of local schools.
Many educators contacted us about participating in our citizen science projects. Over 30 high schools participated in our orchid propagation project, and 33 middle schools participated in the lizard observation project. As part of the orchid project, we were able to visit each school and discuss with students various aspects of experimental design, orchid biology and plant growth. Though we have experienced some issues with adherence to study protocols, the data we have received from the high schools is helping our orchid biologists determine the best media mixture in which to propagate the orchids. Preliminary feedback from the educators about both projects has generally been positive; they have all been excited to enhance their students learning opportunities through these projects. We surveyed teachers at the end of the 2014-2015 school year to assess their interest in future participation, how they incorporated the program into their curriculum, and how we might modify the program to better suit their students educational needs. For the 2015-2016 school year, we plan to continue the lizard project and expand the orchid project to allow middle schools to participate.